PondicherryStriking red soil and deep green vegetation

Pondicherry (Puducheri) literally means ‘the new settlement’. The French settlement comprising the town Pondicherry, fondly called Pondy and three other pockets in different states, Karaikal (Tamil Nadu), Mahe (Kerala), and Yanam (Andhra Pradesh), is what makes today’s Union Territory of Pondicherry, which is 200 km south of Chennai (Madras).

On the way to Pondicherry, one gets to see the scenery typical of the Deccan plateau. Striking red soil and deep green vegetation, consisting mainly of cashew, palm and neem, forming a stunning landscape.

The township of Pondicherry is planned on a grid system, which is to say that the roads meet each other at right angles. On the seaward side is the long Petit Canal which divides the town so that the French township is on the side facing the sea and the predominantly Indian/Tamil one on the other.

Tourist attractions

In the heart of the town lies the Samadhi, or the ashram of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh. At the Ashram’s hand-made paper factory one can buy the most wonderful paper products. The Ashram also has departments selling hand-painted saris, ties, and dress material. On the way, one can notice people playing a strange game with iron balls, which was a French form of amusement.

The beach road is like the mall of a hill station, where everyone comes for a stroll. The footpath is interspersed with trees, flower beds and has lots of benches to sit on and enjoy the evening. Here one can even take a ride in a catamaran by requesting the fishermen, as is the practice. Overlooking the sea among the many mansions, the most striking is the one called Marie. It is built in the French style and is actually the municipality office. The other buildings which are reminiscent of the French architectural style are the Samadhi, French Institute, Ecole Francaise, Raj Niwas to name a few.

Exactly parallel to the beach road runs the Rue Dumas Street, which was the first street to be built here in the year 1706. Strolling northwards one would come to a large park, which is Government Square.

Auroville, about 10 km away from Pondicherry, is a unique experience. The place has been transformed into a lush green cover from a highly eroded area, by 25 years of sheer hard work.
Ousteri and Kaliveli near Pondicherry are a birdwatchers’ paradise. Kaliveli is famous for flamingoes, while Ousteri is great for observing water birds.

Nehru Street is a paradise for shoppers where one can buy leather and pottery goods. Besides a lot of gift items like bags, bed sheets, paper lanterns and trendy T-shirts can be bought.

The other attractions in Pondicherry are the Duplex and the Botanical Gardens.

Places around

There are exciting bird watching excursions at Kaliveli Tank, Ousteri or the lighthouse marsh.

Gingee about 50 km south east of Madras is a very interesting enclave of forts that were constructed around the 1200 AD.

Also close at hand is the fossil tree – Tiruvakkadai and Ramana Maharishi’s Ashram at Tiruvunamallai. The backwaters of Pichavaram and Chidambaram are full of mangroves and birds too. South of Pondicherry, at Chidambaram, there is a temple complex – a good example of Dravidian architecture.

World famous for its shore temples, Mahabalipuram is a pleasant little village – an ideal place for relaxation. Besides the temple relics, one can visit the Crocodile Bank too.

The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park has living corals for one to see. The temple cities of Thanjavur and Kumbhakonam are also close at hand from Pondicherry.

How to reach
Air – Pondicherry is linked with Chennai (Madras), which is 200 km away.

Rail – Pondicherry is connected with a meter gauge link with Chennai via Villupuram by the Pondicherry Express.

Road – Pondicherry has a good network of roads, which connects it with most of South India.

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